Monday, 28 January 2013

Argo (2012)

The week continues with CIA Glorification Motion Picture Feature #2 (the first being ZDT, kinda) aka Argo. That's unfair really, I just liked the idea of the Oscars being some CIA propaganda machine.

As the poster above so helpfully mentions, Argo is Ben Affleck's directorial follow up to The Town, which is one of my favourite crime movies of recent years. I don't know what happened to Ben Affleck after Good Will Hunting (which he co-wrote) but apart from Dogma in '99 he was pretty much in shit films at worst and mediocre ones at best. Then someone had the bright idea of putting him behind the camera and, what do you know? He's great at it. Whoever told Affleck to go into acting rather than directing back in the mid nineties needs some sort of time-travel delivered slap in the face.

Argo is a spy thriller set during the Iranian revolution of 79-81. Iran's ruling Shah has been other-thrown and the US has taken him in. Naturally, this got on the nerves of the revolutionary Iranians and they storm the US embassy in Tehran taking everyone inside hostage. Unbeknownst to the hostage takers though, six staff escaped and managed to find sanctuary with the Canadian ambassador. To get them out, Ben Affleck's CIA character (he still insists on being in his films, ugh) hatches a plan revolving around a fake sci-fi movie all ready to shoot in Iran. He flies in, picks them up, pretends they're part of his space-opera-making team, flies out again. Simple. As describe by one character it is the "best bad idea we have. By far".

So it's a film about making a film only it's not. It sounds complicated and like it could be some meta-satire of the film making industry but it's not. It's a very straightforward, well crafted thriller full of appropriate tension. I can't put it down to Affleck having to stick to historical accuracy or if it's his deft hand learning when to ease off the gas, but the temptation to go all out with action sequences  is resisted. There aren't any massive gun battles and most of the violence is psychological. Of the actual violence that you do see, it's all justified. Much like ZDT, Argo is quite a balanced take on a conflict. The opening titles give a fair assessment of why the Iranian people are justifiably angry. It would have been easy to make out them to just be scary foreigners, especially considering the modern US's stance on Iran. Adding to that, one of the people who protects the group would have been the one who fell into the category of untrustworthy native in an Argo made by a lot of people other than Affleck.

There are a couple of plot points that are signposted a little too heavy handedly (you will absolutely know in advance who causes one of the fuck-ups in the escape) and there is the trademark irrelevant subplot. In The Town it was the romance with the bank clerk, without whom the film wouldn't lose anything, and in Argo its Ben Affleck's home life. It's got no relevance to the plot or any of the character's development really, but it's not so prominent that it takes anything away from the rest of the film at all.

I haven't yet seen Afflecks directorial début in Gone Baby Gone, but with Argo, The Town and Good Will Hunting it's clear that he was born to be behind the camera. Argo's probably the best so far and hopefully a sign that things will only get better for this actor-come-director.

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